Many years ago, after my children where born. It became time to teach them to camp, fish, hunt and to enjoy our great outdoors. We frequented a lake that we bank fish near our home. With rods, pickerel rigs, a few lead weights, some hooks and a bag of mini marshmallows in hand for each of us. We would spend most of the day on the bank with a campfire for warmth. Frequently the marshmallows would partially dissolve off the hooks and float to surface. Every colour of the marshmallow rainbow was on the water. Trout would come along and pick these off the surface which truly entertained the children with great awe. My children noticed that the pink and more so the orange was taken and usually the first colour to be selectively picked out. I was asked by them why that was? Through the eyes of a babe came one of the most complex questions of fish behaviour I was ever asked.  Indubitably, I thought it was not due to an acquired taste. All though that did cross my mind. It seemed unreasonable as that is not instinctual feeding from my studies. Is it some form of hyper stimulation that triggers the feeding on orange - and pink-coloured objects? Is it shape? Is it random? I was perplexed! I should have avoided the question. But rather I perpetuated a tale, that they liked dessert.


Years later after reading several fly-fishing articles on snail patterns from the 70’s and 80’s the light came on and in current year with the design of many new fly patterns things started to fit together. I was fortunate enough to have a friend biologist give me some very dry thesis reading on snail behaviour. What all five reports had in common was snail migration and what caused it under what condition with rough times of the year. Things started to click as many of the days that I went out with my hooligans fell into those similar times lines, weather or seasonal conditions. The light was getting a bit brighter.


Have you ever caught a trout and noticed that it has a belly full of rocks?


So, what is this belly full of on these windy days? Certainly, fish won’t consume rocks or pebbles with any frequency! More often than not when you feel that in your hand it is snails. Snails are very high in protein and the softer shells on the smaller snails are easily dissolved in the stomach acids. Fish will also devour larger snail with thicker and harder shells. When this occurs, their vents are often inflamed by snail shell fragment that were not dissolved. This takes a few weeks to heel. Seldom is anything written about snailing trout, how to fish this dread phenomena or how to tie reasonable pattern to suit this prey. As a fly angler and tier finding a sophisticated snail pattern breaks all the rules of fly tying and is an over statement that is not required for the fly presentation or for the fly tiers needs. Sophisticated snail patterns that are complex ties work, but simplified patterns that can be used as other things throughout the summer are better choices. Simple fly snail patterns only need to cover off two profile being the Pond Snail and the Rams Horn and then a play with colour to instigate a triggering strike is much more relevant than matching the hatch philosophies. The Blob and the FAB (Foam Arsed Blob) are two that quickly come to mind.  The Blob will slowly sink and the FAB will float by design.


We need not make things to complicated. To simplify the patterns, have a look at a snail up against a bright light. The sun will do. There are two basic forms or shapes of snails. A spiral conical form which is representative of a Pond Snail (Lymnaeidae) and a round shape that characterizes a Rams Horn Snail – (Helisoma). Keep these two basic profiles in mind as these will be your fly profiles in varying sizes and colour. There are two things required in the colour format. One is to mimic the colour of the snail and two to use colours that are visible to the human eye at 20-40 feet of cast. Both are important to the fishing system. Colour for trout and colour for the human eye tracking the system. This is much like tracking a dry fly on open water. The visual aid is imperative to the methods success when top water fishing these patterns.


A bit on snails is required as their basic needs and reactive behaviour is key to identifying the snail migration, time of day, time of year and how fish relate to this behaviour of the new prey. Snails are hermaphroditic, possessing both male and female organs. They both reproduce asexually, and Pond and Ramshorn snails can also reproduce sexually (the preferred method). They lay jelly like masses of eggs under water on plants and rocks and logs. The females can lay large clumps of eggs (usually about 200–600 eggs). Snails can lay eggs multiple times a year, sometimes as often as once or more each month. Depending on the species, there can be anywhere from 5 to 600 eggs in a single bunch with varying species. There are several species found throughout Alberta in numerous locations. It is present throughout Canada south of the tree line, but is absent from the region east of northern James Bay and Hudson Bay and also in the Atlantic Provinces.

Most lakes may have several species of both Pond Snails and Ramshorn snails. Some snails require higher oxygen levels than other snails. Water temperature plays a significant roll of available dissolved oxygen in the water column. The annual migration based on species is triggered by water temperature and oxygen levels.

There are several species of Pond Snails and Rams Horn snails in the prairies that trout can relate to, which are the following:


Conical Profile – Pond Snails

These can be .5cm – 1.0 cm wide x 1.0 to 3.0 cm long

  • Great Pond Snail - Lymnaea stagnalis jugularis
  • Common Stagnicola - Stagnicola elodes
  • Tadpole Snail - Physa gyrina
  • Blunt Prairie Physa - Physa jennessi skinneri


     Round Curled Profile – Ramshorn

These can be 1.0cm – 1.0 cm wide or as large as 3.0 cm wide to 3.0 cm long

  • Two-ridged Ramshorn - Helisoma anceps anceps
  • Greater Carinate Ramshorn - Helisoma pilsbryi infracarinatum
  • Binney’s Stout Ramshorn Helisoma trivolvis binneyi
  • Larger Prairie Ramshorn Helisoma trivolvis subcrenatum



Colours vary with all snails but typical colours from a fly-tying perspective are olives, black, brown, grey and (orange) amber.


Snails are present in both lakes and rivers and in substantial numbers. They are an important part to any ecosystem. They are also at certain times of year a vital and over looked food source in trout waters. Trout find snails grubbing around weed, stones, submerged logs and floating at varying depths within the water column and are equally found during migration in the meniscus. During the mid (summer peak) during the lowest oxygen levels due to highest water temperatures and then again during late season when floating at the mercy of the wind to move them into the warmest sections of a lake.

They are found frequently moving along the surface in large numbers. Or during the breeding season. Snails will cling to the underside of the water surface much like Mayflies and midges cling to a wall, leaf or shrub. When this occurs trout feed on snails almost exclusively. This is the best time to fish the snail patterns on a couple of varying fishing techniques. On many occasions’ snails will migrate to surface in large numbers. When this happens in conjunction with wind trout will feed on them heavily and even exclusively. This migration is frequently missed by most anglers. Some clues on calmer days can be gentle sips at surface, especially noticeable when there is no apparent hatch of any kind, yet frequent sips and boils are noticeable. Or on windier days when heavy gulping and boils are apparent with yet again no significant insect or minnow and backswimmer movement. Never rule out the possibility under these two conditions that snails maybe on the menu. To make matters worse the feed may take place early in the morning or late evening when there should be a significant insect hatch. Every bone in your body will want to target any insect hatch and any noticeable insects emerging and hatching at surface. A fly anglers dream come true that will fail in humbling many anglers by the unseen snail.


Common Snails of Alberta;

Ponds Snail Profile


  • *Tadpole Snail - Physa gyrina
  • *Blunt Prairie Physa Physa jennessi skinneri
  • Great Pond Snail - Lymnaea stagnalis jugularis
  • Common Stagnicola - Stagnicola elodes


Ramshorn Snail Profile


  • *Two-ridged Ramshorn - Helisoma anceps anceps
  • Greater Carinate Ramshorn - Helisoma pilsbryi infracarinatum
  • Binney’s Stout Ramshorn – Helisoma trivolvis binneyi
  • *Larger Prairie Ramshorn Helisoma trivolvis subcrenatum

Snail Patterns of past and present:


About the Cove's Orange Nymph Trout Fly


Arthur Cove created the orange nymph, reputedly for when snails are on the surface. On warm summer days on some still waters you often get colourful daphnia, this nymph can well compete with them.

Expert Tip:

He recommended it to be used on bright sunny days. The theory being that when trout look up at floating snails, which may seem semi-translucent, they would have a faint orange hue from the direct summer sunshine.

Creator: Arthur Cove

Tier: Gary Hanke

Country of origin: England

Pattern Dressings

Hook: Size 8 to 12. 1XL - Long shank.

Thread: Orange.

Body: Orange seal's fur.

Rib: Flat gold tinsel.

Thorax: Buildup of orange seal's fur.

Wing case: Pheasant tail fibres.


Tequila FAB


Material List

Hook: Hends BL599 #6-12

Thread: 6/0 White

Tail: 6mm Booby Tube Pink

Body: 15mm Chenille Hot Yellow ( back half) Hot Pink (front half)


Snail FAB

Material List

Hook: Hends BL599

Thread: 8/0 Black

Body: 6mm Booby Tube- Stone or Olive

Thorax: Orange or Fluoro Orange Straggle Legs 

Snail FABS – for floating snails the FAB pattern has the most common-sense as a style for imitating floating snail. It is regularly fished on a washing line tactic as a point fly.  It could likely as well be very effective on a fast sink line on a short leader to fish up off bottom. Fish pick up many snails as they ascend to surface. Orange and Olive based FABS are also excellent colour combinations to imitate floating snails.

Last but not least is a simple Olive/Orange Booby. Again fished as a point fly on a washing line technique. 


Olive/Orange Booby


 Material List 

Hook: Hends BL599 #6-12

Thread : Orange 6/0 

Body: Hends Perdigone Translucent Mylar - Red #08

Wing: Hends Marabou Orange and Golden Olive mixed

Eyes: 6 mm Orange Booby Tube


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